The Pregnant Physician Assistant Who Treated Coronavirus Patients - then Had to Deliver in Isolation
PEOPLE's Voices from the Coronavirus Crisis will share firsthand accounts of the people facing unique challenges during a global pandemic
As a Physician Assistant, Jennifer Perry is no stranger to dealing with illness. But when the 33-year-old Ohio native and her entire family was struck with COVID-19 symptoms just two weeks before she was due to give birth, Perry went from medical professional to a pandemic patient. Here, the mom of two details the hectic few weeks in which she went from working at her local urgent care while pregnant to being treated as a coronavirus-positive patient for the birth of her second child — and having to deliver her daughter alone.
I've been a PA for almost 10 years. I worked in several specialties, most recently at urgent care for the past year and a half.
I liked urgent care because the schedule was flexible, and it was typically pretty low-stress. There are only two urgent cares in our whole town, so it could get busy, but it’s a small town so it’s just me and a medical assistant working in our location.
When COVID-19 started hitting the news in mid-February, we started getting patients right away who had recently traveled and were legitimately concerned about having the virus based on their symptoms.
Obviously, early on we didn’t have a lot of answers for people, so that was frustrating for them and us. We didn’t know if and when we were going to get tests, where to send people for tests — those first few weeks were just a lot of confusion.
We ended up having to put a sign outside that said 'We do not have COVID tests here,' and people still would come in asking for them.
As a medical provider, it’s really frustrating to have to tell people, I can’t help you. And at the time, we didn’t have the appropriate PPE. All we had were gloves. We had no masks, gowns, face shields, nothing. People coming in with possible COVID symptoms, and all we could offer them were flu and strep testing. And when you do something like a strep or flu swab, you're right in someone’s face and they typically cough on you. It was definitely a very scary time for exposure, especially since I was late-term in an already high-risk pregnancy.
For the next few weeks, my husband and I were constantly weighing the risks and the benefits of me continuing to work. I decided that I was ready to tap out around March 22 and that same week Governor DeWine in Ohio gave the stay-at-home orders and locked everything down. Our [patient] numbers at urgent care plummeted, so the owner decided to close it indefinitely.
Shortly after my last shift, my husband and I started having COVID symptoms. At that point, the only way you could get tested in our county was to call the triage line at the hospital and they would determine if you should get tested. Most people were being turned away, but because I was considered high risk with my pregnancy and possible exposure at work, they agreed to check me. My husband and 21-month-old son also had bad symptoms but couldn’t get tested, so they just quarantined.
It started out with just a scratchy throat and by the third day, it was like a train hit us. After about day four, my husband started to improve but I continued to get worse.
I was a few days from giving birth, so I was terrified that I was going to go into labor and would not have the energy to get this child out of me. It was miserable.
Though I started to see improvement, my symptoms lasted up until a few days before I gave birth, which was March 31st. That was a big factor in how the OB staff chose to proceed with me when I did go into labor because my test results were still pending.
Up until the morning my water broke, I thought I was going to be able to have my husband and the doula with me in delivery. And then when I actually called the hospital to tell them I was on my way, they said due to new regulations they could not be there. I didn't have the test results yet and I was not seven days symptom-free so they treated me as a positive patient. We actually stayed home for a good two hours, calling every hospital in a two-hour radius asking what their protocols were, hoping if I delivered somewhere else my husband could join me, but no luck.
My husband then drove me to the hospital and dropped me off at the entrance — he couldn't even walk me up to the labor and delivery department. He just dropped me at the door and they put me in a wheelchair and put a mask and gloves on me right away and took me up.
I delivered at this same hospital previously with my son, but this time was so different. They put me in this back-corner room that felt really secluded and the nurses were in head to toe protective gear.
The nurse explained to me that someone had to be in the room with me the entire time, and that they couldn’t just leave because of how long it takes to put all the PPE and everything back on. They also had so little PPE at that time, they couldn’t be going in and out and wasting the gear.
All of the supplies were also removed from the room because everything that was in there was going to be considered contaminated. There wasn't even a Band-Aid or a washcloth. Anything we needed, the nurse would have to call out to the nurses' station and another nurse would have to go get it from the supply room and bring it.
I gave birth via C-section just after midnight that night and I was able to video chat my husband, so that was actually a nice surprise. Right as the baby came, they held the phone up to the little divider screen and they held up the baby so we were both able to see the baby at the same time. We also hadn’t found out the sex, so when they said 'it's a girl!' we were both so surprised and excited. To find out the gender together — even though I spent the whole day without him — it was really cool to have that little moment together.
I spent that whole next day with her, just the two of us, and the following morning I got my test results back and they were negative. My husband was then able to come up and meet her and stay with me the last day before we were discharged.
The whole experience was just such a stark contrast to the first time I gave birth. There was so much fear and uncertainty wrapped up in it, in addition to frustration and anger that my husband couldn't be there — and once my test came back negative, there were lots of thoughts, like, “Was this all for nothing?”
Though healthcare providers assured us that we did the right thing and in my heart, I knew it was true, for every ounce of relief that I thought “Thank God I don't have the virus,” there was an equal measure of “Wow, I really just had to go through a lot of really challenging stuff for it to come back negative.” I was tested on Saturday, March 21st and we got the results on Wednesday, April 1st. It took 12 days.
Despite how difficult it was, I would do it all again the same way. Being a PA myself, I know how important "flattening the curve" is and how we all need to do our part. And in the end, I received excellent medical care and both my baby girl and I are healthy and safe.
- As told to Morgan Evans
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